Sextortion is the biggest cyberthreat youngsters face today with cases outnumbering all other child sexual exploitation offences according to a new report.
One-in-twenty teenagers have been blackmailed after getting trapped in webcam sex stings, a shock study has revealed.
A further three per cent have done it to others – meaning one-in-12 pupils in every classroom are involved in sextortion. The age group most at risk is 15 year-olds.
And boys are more likely to be victims of the scam – dubbed ‘sextortion’ – than girls, say scientists.
They are encouraged to perform sex acts online – but then told the embarrassing footage will be sent to friends and family unless money or more images are provided.
Victims were harmed in a variety of ways including being stalked or harassed (9.7 percent of males and 23.5 percent of females) or being contacted repeatedly online or by phone (42.9 percent of males and 40.9 percent of females).
Around one-in-ten (11.2 percent of males and 8.7 percent of females) had a fake online profile created about them.
Most notably a quarter (24.8 percent of males and 26.1 percent of females) said the offender posted the sexual image of them online.
Meanwhile one in four (25.5 percent) male and three-in-ten (29.6 percent) female victims said the offender sent the sexual image of them to someone else without their permission.
Criminologist Prof Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Centre at Florida Atlantic University, said: “In short, threats that were made were ultimately carried out in some way.
“Some of these instances may indeed be more accurately characterised as ‘revenge porn’ – another behaviour involving the unauthorised distribution of explicit images.
“Revenge porn is less colloquially known as ‘non-consensual pornography.’ However, the primary difference between revenge porn tends to be public while sextortion is usually private – unless threats are ultimately carried out.”
The vile trick hit the headlines six years ago when 15-year-old Canadian schoolgirl Amanda Todd took her own life after she was stalked, bullied and humiliated online.
It has since been linked to a number more suicides. Now for the first time researchers have put a figure on just how prevalent it is.
The large-scale survey of 5,568 middle and high school students aged 12 to 17 across the US found five percent had been the target.
Males were significantly more likely than females to have participated in sextortion – both as a victim and as an offender.
Prof Hinduja said: “Our finding males are more likely to be a victim of sextortion was somewhat surprising given most attention has focused on female victims.
“We also found a connection between offending and victimisation – with those involved in one role being more likely to also be involved in the other.”
The study published in Sexual Abuse also showed adolescents who identified as non-heterosexual were more than twice as likely to be the victim of sextortion.
This is consistent with cyberbullying and electronic dating violence which research has shown is more common among those who do not identify as heterosexual.
Most sextortion experiences occurred within the context of an existing friendship – romantic or otherwise.
It was relatively rare the victim did not know the perpetrator well. Few victims reported the experience to parents or other adult authorities.
But significantly more girls did this than boys. In addition, very few sextortion victims reported it to the site or app where the situation occurred.
Prof Hinduja said: “Besides a general distrust or lack of faith in adults, adolescents also fear retaliation, struggle with shame, wish to keep sextortion a secret, attempt to minimise the incident, and don’t know where to turn to or who they can count on to truly come through for them.”
Prof Hinduja and co-author Prof Justin Patchin, of Wisconsin-Eau Claire University, advise teenagers to be cautious when it comes to how much trust they can extend to others.
They also suggest parents and other adults who work with teens should cultivate them in a healthy dose of scepticism about the sharing of personal or sexual content.
This includes anyone in their circle because the research makes clear that sextortion rarely involves strangers.
Prof Hinduja said: “Youth may fall prey to victimisation more readily than adults because of the naivety that stems from a simple lack of experience in the ways of life and love.”
His findings follow a report earlier this year that found tens of thousands of Britons – teenagers and adults – are at risk of sextortion by organised criminal groups after being secretly filmed carrying out sex acts.
Some 1,304 cases were reported by UK police forces to the National Crime Agency last year – almost three times more than the 428 in 2015.
The gangs use fake dating profiles to befriend victims and encourage them to live stream sex acts.
Victims are often contacted through dating websites and believe they are in a genuine relationship – and are then persuaded to perform online.
The National Crime Agency fears the real figure is much higher – with many victims failing to report incidents to police.